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Shining a Light on the Wage Gap

HHFifty years after the Equal Pay Act, employment discrimination persists but is harder to see.

By Dr. Heidi Hartmann

When the Equal Pay Act (EPA) was passed 50 years ago, discrimination was, in many ways, openly accepted in the workplace and women were expected to earn less than men in the same jobs. The EPA signed by President John F. Kennedy on June 10, 1963, helped to reduce this type of blatant employment discrimination, but it is still present and the wage gap persists.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) was founded 25 years ago, at the end of the 1980s, the decade which saw the most sustained narrowing of the gender wage gap since passage of the EPA. Between 1981 and 1990, the gender wage gap closed by more than ten percentage points. In the most recent decade, progress has stalled and the gap narrowed by no more than one percentage point.

There is no single cause for the pay gap. Jobs dominated by women pay less than jobs dominated by men. Over their lifetimes, women still take off more time from paid work for family care than men. Women also still face subtle—and not so subtle—discrimination when they do the similar work to men. Direct discrimination is still estimated to account for between one quarter and 40 percent of the wage gap, according to several reviews of social science research.

Employers can no longer advertise jobs at different rates for men and women. But paying women less for similar performance, giving women less access to career-enhancing opportunities, and making it harder for women to get promoted are practices that continue to hinder progress towards equal pay.

Tackling those types of employment discrimination is surprisingly difficult because employees may still be fired simply for discussing their earnings with a colleague or coworker. In an age when information sharing has become widespread and hearing about a major life event over social networking is not uncommon, exchanging pay information remains frowned upon by many employers. Pay secrecy allows disparities, discrimination, and unequal pay to hide under the rug.

President Kennedy hands out pens at the White House signing of the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963.  Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

President John F. Kennedy hands out pens at the White House signing of the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963. Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

According to an IWPR/Rockefeller survey, half of all workers (51 percent of women and 47 percent of men) report that the discussion of wage and salary information is either discouraged or prohibited and/or could lead to punishment. The Equal Pay Act does not protect workers against retaliation for sharing salary information with their co-workers. In the public sector, where pay information is publicly available, a smaller pay gap exists compared to the private sector.

The 2009 Lily Ledbetter Act provides that every paycheck that pays a woman less than a male colleague for equal or similar work can be challenged in court, but the act did not address pay secrecy. Ledbetter worked for a company that prohibited the discussion of one’s salary. After 18 years on the job, Ledbetter sued when, in an anonymous note from a coworker, she received evidence that she was being paid unfairly. The Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced in the last Congress, but failed to pass to a vote in the Senate. This bill would have protected workers against retaliation for sharing pay information.

Women don’t have the time to wait to earn the same as men because their families need the money now. According to the most recent estimate from IWPR, however, the wage gap is not expected to close until 2057. Many women working today will never see equal pay, harming their long-term earnings and leaving them with lower retirement income.

In an age where women in the United States are almost half the workforce, are more likely to gain higher levels of education than men, and increasingly are the main or co-breadwinner in families, we cannot wait for another 44 years for the gender wage gap to be finally relegated to the history books.

Dr. Heidi Hartmann is President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. 

One on One with Rosa DeLauro, Congresswoman and Champion for Women and Families

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro speaking at IWPR's 25th anniversary event.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro speaking at IWPR’s 25th anniversary event.

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro is known in Washington, D.C., is a champion for women. Her dedication and continued work to improve policies for women and their families demonstrate why more women should run for office.

Rep. DeLauro represents Connecticut’s Third District, which stretches from the Long Island Sound and New Haven to the Naugatuck Valley and Waterbury. She serves in the Democratic leadership as co-chair of the Steering and Policy Committee, and she is the ranking member on the Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. From that position, Rep. DeLauro works to increase support for education and innovation, to fully implement the Affordable Care Act, to protect the rights of employees and unions, and to raise living standards.

Rep. DeLauro has led efforts in Congress to achieve full pay equity for women and to ensure that all employees have access to paid sick days. Soon after earning degrees from Marymount College and Columbia University, she followed her parents’ footsteps into public service, serving as the first Executive Director of EMILY’S List, a national organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in elected office, Executive Director of Countdown ’87, the national campaign that successfully stopped U.S. military aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, and as Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd.

In 1990, Rep. DeLauro was elected to the House of Representatives, and she has served as the Congresswoman from Connecticut’s 3rd District since. She is married to Stanley Greenberg, President of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a public issues research firm. Their children—Anna, Kathryn and Jonathan Greenberg—all are grown and pursuing careers. They have four grandchildren, Rigby, Teo, Sadie, and Jasper.

Tell me about yourself. What was your personal journey to your current career?

My family always stressed the value of public service. Both of my parents served on the New Haven Board of Aldermen and my mother is the longest serving Alderman—or Alderwoman!—in New Haven’s history. They really imparted to me the importance of giving back to your community and trying to better the world around you.

I have attempted to live up to the example they set throughout my life. For a long time I worked in more of a behind-the-scenes role… Eventually, I decided that I wanted to hold elected office myself and have been privileged to serve in Congress ever since.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievements?

A few things stick out. One is doubling the funding for the National Institutes of Health between 1998 and 2003. As an ovarian cancer survivor, one of my explicit goals when I came to Congress was supporting medical research and the fight against cancer. That doubling has reaped real dividends and we have made amazing progress, but we really need to do it again!

Another was passing the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Because of that law women’s health care is finally on the same footing as men’s and millions of women will no longer have to pay more for their insurance just because they are a woman. It is truly transformative and people across the country will continue to see more of its benefits in the coming years.

What obstacles did you encounter along your path to a successful career?

While serving as Senator Dodd’s Chief of Staff I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I was supposed to be running his reelection campaign and worried about what would happen. When I told Senator Dodd, he was so supportive and told me to take all the time I needed to get better. I will never forget that and it has been a huge part of why I am so driven to ensure all Americans can take time off, without having to fear for their paycheck, when they or a loved one are sick.

How do you think that the landscape has changed for women in the past 25 years or, more recently, in the past decade?

Clearly we have made great strides. Women make up about half of the workforce and we see more women in leadership roles in both the public and private sector—though still far too few!

But women still make just 77 cents for every dollar a man does and make up the majority of minimum-wage workers. This mirrors the growing gap between the wealthiest and poorest in our society. Electing more people to public office who will fight for equal pay, family-friendly workplace policies and better educational opportunities is crucial to righting this.

Are there certain policies to support women that you think are still lacking in the United States?

I have introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act in each of the past eight congresses and I will continue fighting for it until we truly have equal pay for equal work. The bill is very simple—it says same job, same pay, regardless of gender. Nearly 50 years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law we should not still be having these same battles.

And as I mentioned earlier, we need policies that will make our workplaces more family-friendly and reflect a society where both men and women work outside the home. I have repeatedly introduced legislation to ensure workers can take paid leave when they or a loved one are sick. We have seen similar policies passed in cities across the country and I am hopeful it is only a matter of time before people nationwide have that right.

What are your goals for women in the United States and across the globe?

Women should be recognized for their skills, talents, and intelligence on an equal playing field as men. Girls should have access to education and be encouraged to thrive in those environments. Young women should be paid the same as their male colleagues and have the same opportunities to blaze whatever career path they choose. And older women should have a dignified retirement and not have to make the terrible choice between food, housing, medicine, or other necessities. At times it may seem like a struggle, but I know that one day all of these goals will be reality.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro spoke about “An Economic Agenda for Women’s Equality” at IWPR’s 25th anniversary event on May 22, 2013, at the AFL-CIO in Washington, DC. Watch the full video of the event.

One on One with Professor and Expert on Women in Politics, Dr. Michele L. Swers

Michele Swers

Dr. Michele Swers, Associate Professor, Department of Government, Georgetown University.

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Throughout this month, IWPR will be interviewing speakers appearing at our 25th anniversary celebration on May 22. Our esteemed speakers will share with us their own stories of accomplishment and perseverance, their perspectives on women’s advances, and their hopes for future progress. 

Michele L. Swers is an Associate Professor of American Government in the Department of Government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., focusing on how the gender of elected representatives plays a part in congressional policymaking. Dr. Swers has appeared as an expert in a range of media outlets, including PBS’ “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer,” CQ Weekly, Politico, CNN, as well as in national and state newspapers.

Dr. Swers is the author of two books on women’s representation in Congress, The Difference Women Make: The Policy Impact of Women in Congress (University of Chicago Press, 2002) and Women in the Club: Gender and Policy Making in the Senate (University of Chicago Press, 2013).

Tell me about yourself. What was your personal journey to your current career?

I always loved history. I read books about the presidents and other great historical figures. My grandmother gave me a book about first ladies and she told me stories about Eleanor Roosevelt. This sparked an interest in learning about the role of women in history and politics. I also found that I enjoyed teaching. Before history tests, I would have friends over at my house and run study sessions. I was a high school social studies teacher before I went back to school for my Ph.D. in political science.

I was in college during the 1992 “Year of the Woman” elections, and I was struck by the fact that my political science texts clearly stated that all members of Congress respond to re-election incentives and the nature of their districts. Therefore, the identity of the individual member did not matter, as long as they stayed true to the district. At the same time, EMILY’s List was raising vast sums of money, not to elect all Democrats, but specifically to elect pro-choice Democratic women. Why would a savvy political organization do this if any Democrat would pursue their agenda? I went to graduate school to investigate the question of whether electing women has an impact on policy outcomes.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievements?

I am very fortunate to have a fulfilling career and a loving family. As a professor at Georgetown, I work with very smart and energetic students who are interested in politics and want to make a contribution to society. I am able to do research that I love on the policy impact of electing women to Congress. I have written two books on the subject. My most recent book, Women in the Club: Gender and Policy Making in the Senate (University of Chicago Press) was just published this month. I have a wonderful husband and two beautiful children. My job allows me to spend time with them and support their education and growth.

What obstacles did you encounter along your path to a successful career?

Academic jobs are difficult to get. To get the best education I could and maximize my marketability, I had to endure several years of a commuter marriage. Once you have a job, the biological clock and the tenure clock are not very compatible so that affected when I decided to have my children. On the whole, I have been very fortunate in my career path. Many women who came before me had to endure significant discrimination and undervaluing of their research and contributions. I benefitted from their sacrifices and have tried to support the women coming up behind me.

How do you think that the landscape has changed for women in the past 25 years or, more recently, in the past decade?

Over the past 25 years, opportunities for women in education and the workforce have greatly expanded. The presence of women in the workforce is almost universally accepted and women can compete for top jobs in all fields. However, society has not reconciled the advancement of women into the workforce with the imperative of caring for children.  Fathers are still expected to be breadwinners and the United States does not have a system of paid family leave or universal quality childcare. This lack of attention to issues of work-family balance creates difficulties for single and two parent families at all income levels.

Are there certain policies to support women that you think are still lacking in the United States?

We need to find ways to support families in their efforts to balance the demands of their jobs and the health and welfare of their families. Creation and expansion of family leave to include paid leave, the development of affordable, quality childcare, and improved regulation of childcare would improve the lives of women and their families. Tax credits and deductions would encourage businesses to offer family-friendly policies such as paid leave, on-site childcare, and telecommuting opportunities.  A workforce that can properly care for their children and be confident about their well-being will be a more productive workforce.

You can hear Dr. Swers speak at IWPR’s May 22 anniversary celebration, “Making Research Count for Women: Launching the Next 25 Years.”

The Real Value of In-Home Care Work in the United States

Care worker with elderly womanBy Caroline Dobuzinskis

Baby Boomers, estimated at nearly 80 million in the United States, began turning 65 in 2011.By 2020, the population of older adults is expected to grow to 55 million from 40.4 million in 2010. As more women enter the labor force and fewer are able to care for older family members, providing in-home care to the growing aging population, as well as the disabled and chronically ill, is becoming more critical to a robust U.S. economy.

A new briefing paper by IWPR, “Women and the Care Crisis: Valuing In-Home Care in Policy and Practice,” outlines these challenges but emphasizes that, despite the growing demand, in-home care work jobs continue to be undervalued and underpaid.

While often working long hours to care for others, many in-home care workers cannot afford to take care of their own needs. According to IWPR’s analysis, the median weekly earnings for all female in-home care workers are $308, compared with $560 for all female workers in the U.S. workforce. In-home care workers are also excluded from coverage by the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal law that helps ensure basic standards of living for U.S. workers by requiring employers to pay minimum wages and provide overtime compensation.

The general lack of value placed on paid care work is due to a number of complex factors. Research suggests that what is seen as traditionally women’s labor, at all skill levels, reaps lower economic rewards. The simple fact that the majority of paid care work is performed by women could contribute to its lower average wages. Care work also blurs the lines between formal and informal labor, which can result in the workers being perceived as part of the family and make it more difficult for them to set boundaries that define the requirements and terms of their jobs.

Many in-home care workers are immigrants who may lack pathways to legal status, leaving them vulnerable to low levels of pay and to abuses from employers. According to IWPR research analysis, 90 percent of home health care aides in the United States are women, 56 percent are women of color, and 28 percent are foreign-born with the vast majority (60 percent) migrating from Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite the fact that these immigrant workers are filling an essential labor gap, many remain undocumented and without clear access to citizenship or visa status. Many domestic worker and immigrant groups are waiting to see if Congress will address this issue.

Among the recommendations in IWPR’s report, Increasing Pathways to Legal Status for Immigrant in-Home Care Workers (published February 2013), is an increase in the number and types of immigration visas available to immigrant care workers to help fill the labor shortage in the U.S. industry. The most recent immigration deal being crafted the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of U.S. senators tasked with finding immigration reform solutions, includes an option to provide temporary work visas to undocumented immigrants performing essential, low-skilled labor.

IWPR’s briefing paper, “Women and the Care Crisis: Valuing In-Home Care in Policy and Practice,” proposes several changes that would improve circumstances for all care workers and recipients, as well as the industry as whole, including:

1. Encouraging public dialogue about the growing need for care work and the skills and contributions of those who provide in-home care

2. Improving estimates of the value of unpaid care work and making the public more aware of this work’s critical importance to the nation’s economy.

3. Implementing public policies that affirm the value of care work and those who provide it.

4. Creating more quality in-home care work jobs that will improve the employment prospects of the female workforce, help to reduce inequality, and strengthen the U.S. economy overall.

Many groups and organizations, such as Caring Across Generations, support improved workers rights for care workers nationwide. New York State passed a law entitling domestic workers to, among other provisions, a minimum wage, pay for overtime hours, one day of rest for every seven days, and at least three paid leave days per year after one year of work for the same employer. Further policies are still needed that affirm the value of care work in order to reduce the inequality in wages for these workers and strengthen the U.S. economy overall.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. 

In Memoriam: Mariam K. Chamberlain, 1918–2013

MKC HeadshotBy Jennifer Clark

Dr. Mariam K. Chamberlain, a founding member of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the founding president of the National Council for Research on Women, was the driving force behind the cultivation and sustainability of the women’s studies field of academic research. She is the namesake of IWPR’s prestigious Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellowship for Women in Public Policy, which trains young women for successful careers in research. Throughout her life, Dr. Chamberlain fought discrimination, established new roles for women, and championed the economic analysis of women’s issues. She passed away on April 2, 2013, at 94, just a few weeks shy of her 95th birthday, following complications from heart surgery.

A Lifetime of Lifting Up Women’s Voices in Academia and Research

The daughter of Armenian immigrants, Mariam Kenosian Chamberlain was born and raised in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a working class suburb of Boston. Interest in the prevailing conditions of the depression led her to economics. She attended Radcliffe College on a scholarship and worked as a research assistant in the summers for Wassily Leontief, who later won the Nobel Prize in economics. During World War II, she worked at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), on the staff of a “brain trust” of economists and other social scientists assembled by General William (“Wild Bill”) Donovan to aid in the war effort. As part of the research and analysis branch, she worked on estimates of enemy, military, and industrial strength.

In 1950, Mariam Chamberlain received her Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, making her one of the few women of her generation to earn a Ph.D. in the field. In 1956, Dr. Chamberlain joined the Ford Foundation, where she served as a program officer in Economic Development and Administation, and then Education and Public Policy, until 1981. While at Ford, she spearheaded the funding of the academic women’s research and women’s studies movement; she is said to have provided nearly $10 million in support of new feminist initiatives. Her projects fostered a new analysis of women’s position in society, expanded women’s choices in the university, and supported the development of equality in law. She played a major role in building the academic infrastructure necessary to better understand women’s experiences and inform improved policies for women. In short, she paved the way for organizations like IWPR to thrive, and stocked the research pipeline with skilled women and men who have made important contributions to the study of women and public policy.

Economics and the elimination of discrimination against women around the world remained the heart of her wide-ranging activities. After leaving the Ford Foundation in 1982, she headed the Task Force on Women in Higher Education at the Russell Sage Foundation. The Task Force’s work culminated in a published volume, Women in Academe: Progress and Prospects. Before leaving Ford, she had funded an initial meeting of a group of women’s research centers. That meeting established the National Council for Research on Women, which unanimously elected her its first president. She served in that role until 1989, after which she continued to go into the office every day as Founding President and Resident Scholar.

Mariam K. Chamberlain (left) with Angela Carlberg, the 2007-2008 Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow (center) and Susan McGee Bailey (bottom right) of the Wellesley Centers for Women, at Dr. Chamberlain’s 90th birthday bash in New York City in 2008.

Mariam K. Chamberlain (left) with Angela Carlberg, the 2007-2008 Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow (center) and Susan McGee Bailey (bottom right) of the Wellesley Centers for Women, at Dr. Chamberlain’s 90th birthday bash in New York City in 2008.

A Legacy of Training the Next Generation of Women Policy Researchers

IWPR owes much to Dr. Chamberlain. In 1987, Dr. Heidi Hartmann founded IWPR out of a need for comprehensive, women-focused, policy-oriented research. Dr. Chamberlain, who dedicated her career to lifting up women’s voices in academia, recognized the importance of a policy research institute centered on women, grounded by social science methodology, economics, and rigorous data analysis. Applying academic research to inform better policies for women was a natural extension of Dr. Chamberlain’s work, and she became a founding member of IWPR and served on its Board of Directors for nearly 20 years.

IWPR endowed the Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellowship in Women and Public Policy to recognize the legacy of Dr. Chamberlain’s tireless efforts to open doors for the women researchers who came after her. Nearly 20 young women have gained valuable research experience as Fellows at IWPR since the beginning of the Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellowship. Past Mariam K. Chamberlain scholars have gone on to hold positions at government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Congressional Research Service, earn advanced degrees from universities such as Harvard University, Columbia University, Stanford University, The George Washington University, and Brown University. Rhiana Gunn-Wright, IWPR’s current Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow, was just recently named a 2013 Rhodes Scholar. The fellowship has allowed IWPR to expand its research capacity, strengthen its commitment to cultivating the next generation of women researchers and leaders, and ensure that a pipeline of experienced women researchers are at the policy-making table.

The fellowship helps sustain Dr. Chamberlain’s legacy, built on the belief that relying on credible data and research, rather than anecdote and bias, leads to better policies for working women, which in turn contribute to improved long-term outcomes for their families. May she not only rest in peace, but rest assured that, because of her efforts, there are many more women able to take up the torch she leaves behind.

Woman server with plateHeading out this Valentine’s Day? Keep restaurant workers’ well-being in-mind.

By Courtney Kishbaugh

Valentine’s Day is the second most popular day to dine out, according to the National Restaurant Association. As couples flock to restaurants all over the country, they should keep in mind that the backhouse realities of the restaurant industry are far from romantic.

It takes a bit of research to know the issues that restaurant workers are handling on the job—like harassment from co-workers, lack of benefits such as paid sick days, and low pay—since they are not evident from within a candle-lit dining room.  But with a bit of information, diners can choose to visit food establishments that value job quality and workers’ well-being.

The restaurant industry can be an especially difficult workplace for women. The combination of high rates of sexual harassment, low wages, and unstable work schedules all disproportionately affect women, and their economic security.

Treatment that would typically incite outrage in many other workplaces is considered the norm in restaurants, and women are suffering for it. Sexual harassment is a huge problem in the restaurant industry. Data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shows that, in 2011, almost 37 percent of sexual harassment cases reported that year occurred in restaurants, making the restaurant industry the “single largest source of sexual harassment claims.” Speaking from personal experience, I can attest to the fact that actions typically seen as unacceptable in most workplaces are customary in restaurants.

Simultaneously, the majority of people earning the tipped minimum wage is female. (The federal tipped minimum wage is now $2.13 per hour, and tips are supposed to bring the workers at least up to the regular federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.) Women tend to be stuck in lower paying positions in the kitchen or dining room, rather than rising through the ranks to salaried jobs, evidenced by the fact that women fill only 19 percent of the higher paying chef positions. Though the restaurant I worked at was high-end and earning less than the regular minimum wage was never an issue, Women’s eNews reported  that “tipped workers are more likely to fall into poverty than those who receive [the regular] minimum wage,” and that “servers rely on food stamps at nearly double the rate of the general population.”

In addition, though female servers make up the majority in casual dining establishments, a male majority workforce prevails in fine dining. This leads to further income inequality because women are not only stuck in tipped positions, but also prevented from moving into the higher paid bracket of the tipped positions. The proportion of female servers was much lower at a fine dining restaurant I worked in, and very few women worked in the salaried manager or kitchen positions, outside of the dessert and pastry shop.

The industry’s unstable work schedule disproportionately affects women, who often are primary caretakers in their families. Many restaurants stay open until the last customer leaves, while others have hours that go until three in the morning. Child care centers are seldom open at these late hours, leaving women hard-pressed to find adequate child care. Furthermore, last-minute schedule changes, based on customer volume, can make it difficult for women to make arrangements for their family, a situation already made challenging by low pay.

However, these facts should not ruin the prospect of eating out on Valentine’s Day.  Those planning on eating out should consider using the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United) dining guide (available either as a PDF or as a free mobile app for smartphones) that details which restaurants pay their workers fairly and provide them with benefits, such as paid sick days. The guide covers a number of restaurants in major cities such as New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

Supporting establishments that treat their workers fairly is a step in the right direction to improve the situation of restaurant staff in general, especially women, by increasing their economic security.

Courtney Kishbaugh is a Research Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and is currently a student at Georgetown University.

Don’t Know Much About Mentoring? Here’s How You Learn More

By Kenneth Quinnell

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO website.

New Union Mentoring Guide Helps Build Future Leaders

January is National Mentoring Month 2013, and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the Berger-Marks Foundation continue to encourage unions to expand their mentoring efforts and institutionalize mentoring as part of their training efforts. The two organizations produced The Next Generation: A Handbook for Mentoring Future Union Leaders and are producing a series of workshops to help introduce mentoring concepts and help unions put together mentoring programs.

The first workshop, “Mentoring 101,” is available from the foundation and introduces mentoring, explaining what it is and what it isn’t; what it can do and what it can’t do. It also provides tools to help activists introduce the concept to leadership and to start to put together real-world mentoring programs. “Mentoring 102,” which will be available soon, helps unions put together specific mentoring programs.

President Obama’s proclamation explains the importance of mentoring:

A supportive mentor can mean the difference between struggle and success. As we mark this important occasion, I encourage all Americans to spend time as a mentor and help lift our next generation toward their hopes and dreams.

The Next Generation: A Handbook for Mentoring Future Union Leaders is available in print or online from the Berger-Marks Foundation. Contact the foundation at bergermarks@gmail.com, for more information about obtaining single or multiple copies.

The ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Fix—Good, Bad, and Ugly

There’s a lot of good news in the deal negotiated by the White House and Congress that resulted in the passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act, signed yesterday by the President.

First, we should mention as really good news, the bad stuff that is not in the deal. There is no increase in the Medicare eligibility age or a cut in the Social Security cost of living adjustment (COLA) based on an inaccurate inflation index for the elderly, the chained CPI. In other words, this deal did not target the basic programs that retirees and many of the disabled, including disabled veterans, rely on. These benefits have not been cut. This is good news because so many Americans, especially older women, who are the majority of the elderly, rely on these programs for the vast majority of their income. This is a huge victory for the large coalitions of organizations working to protect these programs from cuts and to improve their benefits. Although many pundits, CEOs, and newspaper editorial boards assume that cuts in these programs are needed to reduce the deficit, that is simply not so. Without more effective cost controls on health care in general, cutting Medicare benefits would simply shift costs from a government program paid for by workers’ life-long contributions to other retirement resources they may have and increase health care costs overall. Similarly, cutting Social Security benefits would force retirees to rely more on other retirement income or assets, which—for most retirees—have been shrinking due to the Great Recession and the slow recovery. Many retirees would simply see their standard of living fall—some would fall into poverty. The solution is not cuts to these programs, but controlling health care costs and raising more revenues. For example, removing the cap on earnings so that all workers pay the same tax rate for Social Security (the cap for 2013 is $113,700—dollars earned above that amount are not assessed any Social Security tax) would solve all of Social Security’s long-term funding shortfall (a shortfall not expected to occur for another 20 years anyway).

More good news: Important Obama tax credits for low and middle income families, such as the expanded child tax credit, the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, the American Opportunity Credit–a tuition tax credit—are renewed for five years. And the Bush tax cuts for the rich, which President Obama had previously agreed to extend for two years through the end of 2012, have now been eliminated for individuals making more than $400,000 per year and married couples making more than $450,000 per year. The ending of this cut for the rich, in place since the early years of the Bush administration, amounts to the first significant increase in income tax rates in many years. In addition some cuts in allowable exemptions will affect those earning above $250,000. Compared with policy current as of December 31, tax rates on dividends and capital gains are also higher than they were for higher income filers (increased from 15 percent to 20 percent).  The tax rate on estates valued at $5 million and up ($10 million for married couples) has increased from 35 percent to 40 percent. These higher rates, along with the lower income taxes for everyone earning less than $250,000, have been described as “permanent,” which should provide some sense of security going forward. (Of course, Congress could change these rates at any time—but they don’t have a sunset date as the original Bush tax cuts did.)

Another important positive is the extension of federal unemployment benefits for those looking for work for more than 26 weeks, preventing cutting off benefits for 2 million unemployed and giving them a lifeline for another 12 months.

Some of these provisions are also the bad news: had the fiscal cliff not been negotiated away, we would have fallen over the cliff, and tax rates on estates, dividends, and capital gains would be higher yet, and the income level for the elimination of the tax rate cuts would have corresponded to the level the President campaigned on ($200,000 for individuals, $250,000 for married couples), so some critics may feel the White House lost tax revenues here that it should have held onto. After all, reducing a deficit can be done either by cutting spending or by increasing revenues, and, for women, who depend so much on government programs (Title X family planning funds, for example, or services for domestic violence victims) any loss in potential revenue and failure to harvest new revenues likely means bigger future cuts to programs they rely on.

Other bad news: the payroll tax cut was not extended.  For the past two years, most workers paid a contribution deducted from their paychecks of 4.2 percent of their earnings for Social Security instead of the normal 6.2 percent. This reduction, always seen as temporary and originally passed for one year, and then extended for a second, helped to stimulate the economy during the weak recovery of 2011 and 2012, by adding about $120 billion to consumer demand each year (not counting multiplier effects). What this means is that many low and middle earners will actually see their taxes increase—they will still get the income tax rate cuts that are now permanent and the Obama tax credit expansions but those will be more than offset by the payroll tax increase that supports Social Security. This is bad news for millions of families and for the overall economy, which still needs more stimulus, not less.

The ugly is what remains to be negotiated: the sequester and increasing the U.S. Government’s borrowing authority. The sequester is a nine-year planned cut in expenditures of approximately $110 billion per year, including both defense spending (50 percent) and discretionary non-defense spending (50 percent) that would have gone into effect automatically on January 1, 2013, had this fix, which extends that deadline 2 months, not gone through. A two-month delay is good because those are huge cuts in spending that could trigger an economy-wide downturn, but the delay may not be long enough to allow the crafting of good alternatives.  In fact, the just-inked deal includes $12 billion in spending cuts that are a down payment on future anticipated cuts.

At the same time, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has announced that the U.S. Government has now reached its borrowing limit and is using extraordinary measures to make sure we can pay all our bills. While many of the pundits and CEOs mentioned above, as well as some centrist members of Congress from both parties, are arguing for cuts in spending rather than more revenues as a way to downsize our deficits, it is the Republican members of Congress aligned with the Tea Party who are demanding significant cuts in federal spending, particularly in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicare, in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Perhaps they have not seen the survey research that shows that adults of all political parties (including the Tea Party) oppose cuts in benefits provided by these programs.

In the next two months we are certain to see some more really big battles to protect critical programs for all Americans, programs which are even more essential for women.

Heidi Hartmann is the President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

New Guide to Illustrate Women’s Needs in the MENA Region

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

A new toolkit by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research  and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), serves as a guide for the creation, dissemination, and promotion of reports on the status of women in the Middle East and North Africa. Using Research on the Status of Women to Improve Public Policy:A Capacity-Building Toolkit for Nongovernmental Organizations lays out a blueprint for using accurate research on the status of women as a means to shape public policy and give women in the MENA region a voice.

The toolkit, Using Research on the Status of Women to Improve Public Policies, outlines how to:

1. Create a diverse working advisory committee;
2. Identify relevant data sources and key research indicators;
3. Plan and create a press release strategy;
4. Communicate with aligned or peer organizations to push advocacy forward; and
5. Train women for leadership roles through mentorship and other programs.

A report on the status of women is a powerful tool for informing policy decisions. The reports are useful in indicating where women need to be better served through educational and health care systems, and how they can be better integrated into the labor market. International advocates and NGOs, and other individuals and groups in the private and public sectors, have long argued that women’s empowerment and full participation in the economy can help them, their families, and their communities, and can strengthen the productivity and economy of an entire nation.

In September 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of the economic cost of lack of inclusion or restrictions to women’s full participation in the economy: “By increasing women’s participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity, we can have a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our economies,” she said in her remarks to the APEC Conference that year. In October of this year, at a meeting titled “Power—Woman as Engine of Growth & Social Inclusion”,  Clinton cited the economic costs of lack of women’s participation or supports for women in the Asia Pacific, Eurozone, and other regions.

As part of a joint project on the Status of Women in the Middle East and North Africa, in 2010, IWPR and IFES released topic briefs on the status of women in Yemen, Morocco, and Lebanon. Among the findings in Yemen, for example, is that women who work for pay have greater freedom of movement, and have greater financial savings and access to credit. The surveys in Yemen also found that women with higher levels of education tend to have more access to health care resources.

IWPR’s new capacity-building toolkit provides information for non-governmental organizations to organize and use similar research to to support women in leadership roles, and how to design an advocacy campaign and a call-to-action for improved policy to support women.

The toolkit is available online at the IWPR website and IWPR experts are available to comment on its recommendations. 

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Four Key Policy Priorities for Women Missing from Election Debate


By Caroline Dobuzinskis and Mallory Mpare

As we head into the elections, and looking forward, what are some of the less-talked about issues that will be important to women after November 6? Women are often those making family decisions on education, child care, and health care. They are also more likely to serve as caregivers for children or older relatives. Perhaps as a result, they tend to be more likely to support providing services for families, children, and the elderly.

The wage gap, women in the workplace, and access to reproductive health services have received much of the focus in this campaign, but there are some other key areas that are likely on the radar of many women voters:

1. Paid Sick Days: Several city and state legislatures are considering paid sick days legislation. At the national level, the Healthy Families Act was re-introduced to Congress in 2011, but has not moved forward. Earned sick time laws provide paid time off to workers in the event that they fall ill or need to care for a sick family member. According to IWPR research, paid time off for workers improves workers’ self-reported well-being and also can reduce health costs. Also according to IWPR research, in 2010, 44 million American workers lacked paid sick days, and could put their jobs at risk for taking a sick day. Although this year’s campaign talk focused largely on the costs of Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, the lack of paid sick days also contributes to government health care costs. Workers without time off are more likely to put off care and visit emergency rooms instead of promptly visiting a doctor. This means higher costs for public and private insurers—costing up to $1 billion nationally (including $500 million in taxpayer-funded public health care programs for children, seniors, and low-income Americans). Women benefit disproportionately from paid sick days because they are more likely to serve as caregivers for children and older adults, and time off to care for an ill child or parent would be covered under the Healthy Families Act and other paid sick days legislation.

2. Health Care Reform. Famously, the much contested Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act stopped insurance companies from considering being a woman a pre-existing condition and charging higher rates to women than men for similar insurance policies. Lesser-known provisions in the Affordable Health Care Act are also already benefiting women in education and in the workplace.

The Pregnancy Assistance Fund (PAF) was implemented as part of the ACA in 2010 and has since quietly supported women in achieving education by awarding competitive grants to state programs to help parents and pregnant students complete or stay in school. For example, a “Steps to Success” program in Minnesota provides counseling and merit-based scholarships to college students with children (learn more about similar programs by listening to our webinar on the topic). Research has shown that a mother’s achieving higher education can contribute to the well-being of both mother and child.

In addition, the ACA is helping working mothers through a requirement that employers provide reasonable break time and a private place for nursing mothers. This could help improve the rate of breastfeeding in the country and meet the goals of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2020 initiative.

3. Social Security. The gender wage gap that women face during their working lives is not stemmed at retirement, but continues to leave older women economically vulnerable. As a result, older women—and particularly women of color—are traditionally more reliant on Social Security. IWPR research has shown that older men have also become more reliant on Social Security due to a shift toward less stable defined contribution pension plans away from defined benefit pension plans  during their work lives.

IWPR, in collaboration with the NOW Foundation and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, released a report in May 2012 calling for modernizing Social Security to help make the program even more beneficial to women and families than it already is.  Proposed changes include increasing benefits to survivors and providing credits to increase recorded earnings for caregivers who are devoting time to taking care of children, elderly parents, or disabled relatives. The report also proposes modernizing the program by providing equal benefits to same-sex married couples and partners. Affordable means of funding Social Security and improvements to the program include “scrapping the cap,” meaning eliminating the cap on earnings on which Social Security payroll taxes are assessed, requiring all workers at all earnings levels to pay the same tax rate.

4. Early Care and Education. Quality, reliable, affordable child care can be key to women attaining education and entering or advancing in the labor market. Currently, student parents at colleges and universities in the United States lack adequate child care. IWPR’s research shows that existing on-campus child care meets only a very small portion of the need—hovering close to just five percent. Student parents make up 26 percent of community college students and many have young children. A recent IWPR toolkit profiles several existing programs providing a wide variety of child care services at institutions of higher learning that attempt to address the lack of child care

Nancy Pelosi believes affordable early care and education can provide “the missing link” for boosting women’s contributions to the economy. According to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of mothers with children under the age of 17 now work. Many women and families are already suffering under the strains of child care’s high costs.  As the economy begins to recover and more women enter the labor market, the need for affordable child care will increase.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Mallory Mpare is Communications Assistant at IWPR.

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